The Irish Pharmaceutical Industry over the Boom
Period and Beyond
For Irish Geography - Special Issue: Geographies of the Celtic Tiger
Chris Van Egeraat
National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis and
Department of Geography, National University of Ireland, Maynooth
tel: (353-1) 708-6171
School of Business
Trinity College Dublin
tel: (353-1) 896-2311
THE IRISH PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY OVER THE
BOOM PERIOD AND BEYOND
The pharmaceutical industry has been one of the strongest performing sectors of the
Celtic Tiger era. During the past two decades, employment growth in the sector has
been strong and continuous, even when, in recent years, employment in other
manufacturing sectors has been contracting. Although positive in itself, from a
dynamic regional development perspective it is important to explore the qualitative
changes in the types of activities that are conducted in Ireland. Adopting a global
production network approach, the paper examined Ireland’s changing role in global
production networks within the pharmaceutical industry, focussing on the different
components of manufacturing and R&D. The analysis shows that Ireland’s
involvement in manufacturing has shifted in the direction of relatively higher value
generating activities. Within R&D, although the level of value creation has increased
substantially, Ireland’s involvement remains concentrated in the (relatively) lower
value generating activities of the global R&D network. In addition, the sector remains
strongly dominated by foreign direct investment so that a large share of the created
value is not captured within Ireland
The research for this paper was partly supported by a grant from the Irish Research
Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences.
The pharmaceutical sector is of substantial importance to Ireland. It accounts for
almost 16 percent of industrial exports and some 5 percent of manufacturing
employment, and is one of the highest-skill sectors of manufacturing industry. Yet,
the developmental aspects of the sector have been little researched. This paper
provides a detailed account of the dynamics of the Irish sector over recent decades.
The paper engages principally with the regional development literature and employs
the Global Production Network (GPN) framework that seeks to shed light on the
relation between economic integration, globalisation and regional development
(Dicken et al., 2001; Henderson et al., 2002; Yeung et al., 2001). This framework
proposes that the globalisation of production networks of firms and institutions
integrates economies in ways which have important implications for development. We
analyse Ireland’s changing role in the global production networks of the
pharmaceutical industry, notably with respect to R&D and manufacturing.
The analysis is based on statistical data from national and international institutions; on
52 semi-structured face-to-face interviews with senior staff at 13 selected
pharmaceutical companies, and on a 2006 email survey of all (80) existing
The paper begins with a discussion of the role of global production networks as
discussed in the regional development literature. This is followed by an account of the
development of the Irish pharmaceutical industry. Following a description of the
value chain of the industry, the paper presents a detailed investigation of the
qualitative changes in Ireland’s role in manufacturing (of both active ingredients and
drug formulations) and various elements of the R&D cycle (including discovery,
clinical trials and process development. The paper ends with some concluding
2. Global Production Networks
Geographers have been active participants in the analysis of regional economic
development. Following the seminal work of Piore and Sabel (1984), many studies
emphasised the role of internal production linkages, local institutions and indigenous
firms. Another body of work has concentrated on external linkages, notably the
impact of subsidiaries of multinational enterprises on local and national development,
and some of this work has taken a more dynamic perspective by analysing the
developmental impact of industrial change and the related organisational dynamics of
MNEs (Yeung, 2000; Hudson, 1994; Hudson, 1997; Phelps, 1993; Pike, 1998).
In search for an overall framework for understanding issues of global integration and
local economic development, Gerreffi and others developed the Global Commodity
Chain (GCC) framework (Gerreffi, 2001; Gereffi, and Korzeniewicz, 1994; Bair and
Gereffi, 2001), which privileges the dynamics of global industries and the role of
external linkages in understanding regional economic development. Building on the
GCC concept, Dicken et al. (2001) propose a global production network (GPN)
framework (see also Henderson et al., 2002; Yeung et al., 2001), which emphasises
the role of the firm and networks of firms. The idea is that production networks of
firms and institution have become increasingly global and integrate economies in
ways which have important implications for development. An understanding of the
economic development implications for regions requires a study of the dynamics of
“what [lead-] firms do, where they do it, why they do it, why they are allowed to do it
and how they organise the doing of it across different geographic scales” (Henderson
et al. 2002, p. 5).
The GPN perspective explicitly accords a degree of power and autonomy to domestic
firms, governments and institutions whose actions can influence the economic
outcomes of the network processes in their own locations. Furthermore, the GPN
framework more explicitly acknowledges that input-output flows can be organised
horizontally and diagonally as well as vertically.
The GPN perspective directs attention to the networks of firms involved in the whole
range of activities linked to a given product (including R&D, design, production,
marketing and other services), the way these are organised globally, the way this
global organisation is influenced by governments and institutions, and the overall
implications for upgrading and development. One of the central concepts in the
analysis of the inter-organisational connections and their relations to economic
development of particular localities is value; specifically the way in which it is created
and the extent to which it is captured in various locations. Part of the contribution of
the present paper is to analyse Ireland`s changing role in global production networks
and what this means in terms of value creation. Before this, we present an account of
Ireland`s emergence as an important player in the global pharmaceutical industry.
3. The Growth of the Irish Pharmaceutical Industry
The development of the Irish pharmaceutical industry has been, and continues to be, a
major international success story. Until the 1960s there was virtually no
pharmaceutical industry in Ireland (Galvin, 1998). The post-independence autarkic
economic development policies, including the Control of Manufacturers Act
(designed to keep the ownership of industry in native hands), offered little incentive
for foreign companies to invest in Ireland (White, 2000b), while the manufacturing of
most pharmaceutical products was too sophisticated and capital-intensive for
indigenous players. The first substantial investments by foreign pharmaceutical
companies followed rapidly on from the shift towards more outward–looking
economic policies towards the end of the 1950s (Van Egeraat, 2006; Van Egeraat and
Breathnach, 2007). However, the sector really took off in the 1970s following the
IDA`s adoption of fine chemicals as one of its target sectors (Childs, 1996). This led
to a series of manufacturing investments, notably by US and UK-based companies.
Figures 1 and 2 chart the growth in employment in the pharmaceuticals sector in
Ireland in the periods 1979-1991 and 1991-2005 respectively, using CSO data. There
is a structural break in the data as the industrial classification system changed in 1991.
At the beginning of the period, the sector accounted for around 2,500 jobs and just
one percent of manufacturing employment. By 2005, employment numbers in the
now more narrowly defined sector had grown to 11,000 and the sector now accounted
for some five percent of Irish manufacturing employment. While overall
manufacturing employment has fluctuated over the last decade, recording largely
similar numbers for 1995 and 2005, the pharma sector is one of the few to have
recorded almost continuous employment growth over the period (apart from what
might be viewed as a positive blip in 2002).
The Forfás employment survey records far higher employment numbers for the sector
than the CSO figures. Using this data set Van Egeraat (2006) shows that in 2003 the
industry already employed 19,500 workers (see also Figure 3). Again, the data paint a
picture of strong and nearly continuous employment growth since the early 1970s –
even after 2001, when employment in most other manufacturing sectors contracted.
The continuing growth of employment in the Irish pharmaceutical industry, even at a
time when employment in other manufacturing industries started to decline has
significantly increased the relative importance of the pharmaceutical industry. Table 1
shows how the share of the pharmaceutical industry in total manufacturing
employment has increased from under 2 per cent in 1990 to 5.2 percent in 2005, by
far the highest figure for any OECD economy.
The quality of the jobs further increases the importance of the industry.
Pharmaceuticals are by all available measures one of the highest-skill sectors within
Irish manufacturing. Skill intensity is typically proxied either by the share of third-
level graduates in sectoral employment or, more directly, by wage levels per
employee. Table 2 shows that the broad Chemicals sector (of which pharma is a
significant component), records the highest skill levels, using the share of third-level
graduates as indicator, while Table 3 shows that this sector, with the lower-tech
Rubber and Plastics segment stripped out, records the highest wage levels, though
wages in Pharma are marginally below those in the remainder of the sector.
Ireland has become an important exporter of pharmaceutical products. Table 4
displays the shares of global pharmaceutical exports recorded for various countries
over the period 1965-2005. The shares emanating from traditional pharma exporting
countries such as the US, the UK, Switzerland and Germany have all substantially
shrunk. In contrast, Ireland’s market share in pharmaceuticals has grown
substantially, particularly over the Celtic Tiger era and beyond. The expansion of
Ireland’s market share is all the more remarkable in that it has not been replicated by
other non-traditional exporting countries, with the exception of Belgium.
India and China, for example, are yet to become major global exporters of
pharmaceuticals. India’s share of global pharma exports has hovered around 1
percent since 1980 while exports by the Chinese pharmaceutical industry are even less
important, accounting for only 0.5 percent of global exports in 2005. Malaysian and
South Korean pharma exports are also insignificant, while, perhaps surprisingly, Israel
and Singapore hover at around only 1 percent.
In 2006, Irish pharmaceutical exports were worth around $17 billion. This accounted
for almost 16 percent of Irish industrial exports and over 6 percent of world
pharmaceutical exports, while Irish industrial exports overall comprised less than 1
percent of world industrial exports. The Irish industry’s growth has been largely based
on foreign direct investment however. In 2003, the 95 subsidiaries of foreign
companies accounted for 93 per cent of pharmaceutical employment and virtually all
employment in the drug substance sub-sector. Indigenous operations remained
relatively small with only seven indigenous companies employing more than 50 staff
(Van Egeraat and Breatnach, 2007).
While pharma imports came to only around $2 billion
, it must be recognised that a
large share of the value of the exports is not added in Ireland. Apart from the import
of raw and intermediate materials, all of Ireland’s foreign-owned manufacturing
sectors make substantial payments to their overseas parent companies in the form of
royalties and licence fees and payments for miscellaneous business services. In
addition there is a widespread suspicion that the country’s trade surplus in
pharmaceuticals is inflated by the behaviour of corporations who face an incentive to
shift profits to low-corporation-tax locations. One way in which this can be done is
through the manipulation of ‘transfer prices’ (the prices charged for the transfer of
goods and services between a parent company and its foreign affiliates). Some
indications of the possible extent of transfer pricing in the Irish pharmaceuticals case
are suggested by the data in Table 5. Gross value added per person employed in the
sector in Ireland is more than double the EU15 average and one and a half times the
level prevailing in the UK sector, while the share of personnel costs in production is
substantially lower than in either of the other geographic entities.
Profit outflows from Ireland’s FDI-intensive pharmaceutical sector are very
substantial as many foreign parents take substantial dividend payments from their
Irish units (Beesley, 2005). Thus although much value may appear to be created in
Ireland, a large share of this value is not captured in Ireland.
We have seen that the level of economic activity in the Irish pharmaceutical industry
has increased substantially over recent decades and that Ireland has become one of the
main pharmaceutical exporters. The remainder of the paper will analyse in more detail
Ireland’s changing role in the global production networks of the pharmaceutical
4. The value chain of the pharmaceutical industry
A basic model of the value chain of the pharmaceutical industry includes the
following segments: discovery, product development or clinical trials, process R&D,
active ingredient manufacturing, drug product (formulation) manufacturing; sales and
marketing; and corporate functions. Discovery covers the initial product R&D
activities, i.e. research into the causes of diseases and the identification of compounds
that have a pharmacological effect. Product development includes the further
development of these compounds, and notably their testing in pre-clinical and clinical
trials. Process R&D is concerned with the development of safe and efficient
manufacturing processes at commercial scale. Manufacturing encompasses the
production of raw materials, intermediates, active ingredients and drug products
Data from intracen.org (the International Trade Centre, a joint facility of UNCTAD and the WTO).
(formulations). All these activities are supported by corporate functions such as
strategic management, finance, supply chain management etc.
The various segments account for different levels of value creation. It is difficult (and
not the aim of this paper) to quantify these levels, partly because the concept is not
easy to operationalise. (Henderson et al., 2002, for example define value as “a
combination of the Marxian notion of surplus value with more orthodox notions of
economic rent”). One option is to apply the notion of value-added, which is
occasionally employed by the original proponents of the GPN approach (Henderson et
al., 2002, p. 28). Value-added refers to the additional value of an output over the cost
of the inputs used to produce it from the previous stage of production. High value
added is generally related to high value creation with a strong positive impact on
Discovery, clinical trials and corporate functions are generally considered to be high
value added activities. Manufacturing is often seen as a relatively lower value added
activity, though the level of value added in active ingredients is higher than in drug
formulations. Process R&D and sales and marketing are in turn generally
characterised as medium-level. A complementary way to account for the level of
value creation is to consider the skill/education levels and the number of highly
skilled staff involved in the activities in a particular locality.
In reality, as will become clear, most of the segments of the value chain involve a
number of activities with different characteristics in terms of value creation. The
remainder of this paper analyses Ireland’s changing role in global production
networks, focussing on manufacturing of active ingredients and drug formulations,
and R&D in the areas of discovery, clinical trials and process development.
Pharmaceutical manufacturing includes the manufacture of active ingredients (the
drug substance), drug formulations (the actual tablet, capsule or injection material)
and inputs to these items. Active ingredients, which are responsible for the
pharmacological effect, are the most important ingredients of the drug formulation.
Drug formulation and active ingredients involve different manufacturing processes.
Active ingredients can be manufactured by chemical synthesis, extraction, cell
culture/fermentation or by recovery from natural sources. Chemical synthesis has long
been the most important route but biotechnology has been growing in importance as a
sub-sector since the 1990s. In drug formulation, the active ingredient is combined
with other inactive ingredients (excipients) in a physical transformation process
involving activities such as granulation, drying, blending and compressing.
The manufacture of active ingredients through chemical synthesis is a multi-stage
process. Chemical ingredients are combined into new molecules in a number of
chemical synthesis steps. The required inputs can be categorised into regulatory
starting materials, basic raw materials and reagents. The regulatory starting materials
are substantial fragments of the active ingredient molecule that are specified in the
process filed with the regulatory authorities. They are specific to the product and
custom made. These are combined with the basic chemicals and reagents in several
chemical transformations. The distinction between active ingredient and input
production is flexible, depending on the number of steps the pharmaceutical company
decides to conduct in-house or to out-source. The basic chemicals such as solvents are
more general and are used by a variety of industries. The reagents are speciality
chemicals that may be produced for use in particular types of chemical reaction by a
large number of pharmaceutical companies.
The other important route to manufacture active ingredients involves biotechnological
processes. Advances in biotechnology have made it possible to genetically manipulate
specific bacterial or mammalian cells that produce the required proteins. The
manufacturing process of the active ingredient involves two steps: the growing of
cells in bioreactors (the upstream process) and the subsequent separation/purification
of the protein (the downstream process). The process involves a more limited amount
of inputs, notably media, buffers and resins. Bio-fermentation is a frontier technology
that typically involves relatively highly skilled personnel.
Figure 3 charts employment growth in different sub-sectors of the pharmaceutical
industry in Ireland. It shows that most employment growth was accounted for by the
drug formulations sub-sector (drug products in the diagram) and the relatively higher
value added active ingredients sub-sector (drug substance in the diagram). Very few
companies manufactured other intermediates (van Egeraat, 2006).
5.1 Active Ingredients
The multinational pharmaceutical firms that invested in Ireland in the 1960s and
1970s were models of Fordist industrial organisation that was associated with a
distinct geography of production and R&D (Malecki, 1997; Hayter, 1998; Dicken,
2007). The geography of production was characterised by a decentralisation of
manufacturing functions. Companies established branch plants in numerous markets
to overcome trade-barriers and to avail of local tax incentives. Until the 1990s, the
typical active ingredients plant established by foreign pharmaceutical companies in
Ireland was a high volume production plant, producing one or a limited number of
active ingredients for a limited number of formulation plants. Typically a company
would have started producing the product in one of the new-product-introduction-
plants, or launch plants, in its home country. The manufacturing process was typically
fully developed and all process issues ironed out before the product was transferred to
a high volume plant in Ireland. The main drivers for investment in Ireland included
low corporation tax and relatively low wages, given that the labour force was
sufficiently skilled. The low rate of corporation tax was particularly important for the
manufacture of high-value active ingredients. Most major pharma companies invested
in at least one overseas high volume active ingredients production plant in one of only
three countries that offered a similar package of incentives: Ireland, Puerto Rico and
After the 1990s the flow of investment in API manufacturing capacity to Ireland
continued unabated. The aggregate growth figures mask important qualitative changes
in Ireland’s role, raising the level value creation. Notably an increase in launch
activities, a focus on the later stages of the chemical synthesis cycle, and the
attainment of global manufacturing mandates. The rise of biotechnology gave rise to
further qualitative changes.
Increasing role in launch activities
From a taxation perspective it had always made sense to establish launch plants and
begin production of new chemical entities in Ireland. However, launch plants and the
related process development activities require relatively high skills that were not
available initially in sufficient quantities. This situation changed over the course of the
last two decades. Partly in response to the recognised requirements of the
pharmaceutical industry, the Irish Government invested significant resources to
increase the output of graduates with relevant skills. This allowed for a gradual shift
of launch manufacturing (and related process development activities - see next
section) to plants in Ireland. Many production sites in Ireland became responsible for
both new product introductions and high volume production.
This development coincided with changes in the industry’s technological and
competitive environment. The number of diseases that can be targeted with
chemically derived pharmaceuticals is limited and during the 1990s the number of
potential blockbuster drugs in the pipeline of the traditional pharmaceutical
companies fell sharply. Companies are increasingly relying on smaller volume high-
value drugs for niche markets, and new versions of existing drugs, e.g. for new
indications. This increased the amount of new product introductions and the need to
for “flexible” multi-product launch plants, as opposed to mono-product plants
designed for the synthesis of a specific active ingredient
Focus on the last stages of the chemical synthesis cycle
In addition, in a global context characterised by reduced rates of revenue growth and
increasing costs (see van Egeraat, 2008), an increasing number of companies began to
outsource non-core activities. Although the strategies differ, some companies have
started to outsource the early steps of the active ingredient synthesis cycle. Moving
back into the synthesis chain, the regulatory requirements tend to be lower and, as a
result, skill requirements and the required level of control over the production process
diminish. Some companies have outsourced these early stages to fine chemical
suppliers that have been assuming an increased role in the production of regulatory
starting materials. There is some evidence of a cyclical element in the outsourcing
pattern. At the early stage of the product life cycle, companies add significant value
to the product by using their technology recourses to optimise the production process.
Later, when the marginal benefits of further continuous improvement activities
decline and the product moves closer to the end of its patent-protected period,
companies start to outsource the mature product, thereby also freeing up capacity for
new product introductions.
Ireland`s rapidly rising wage levels of the Celtic Tiger era provided an extra incentive
to use the Irish facilities for the higher value added elements in the manufacturing
chain, notably for new product introductions and late stage synthesis.
Very few processes are outsourced to companies in Ireland. Traditionally the basic
chemicals and fine chemical supplies were imported from suppliers in the UK and
Europe. Over the last decade however, the pharma companies have increasingly used
low-cost suppliers in India and China, though mainly for lower value added supplies.
The interviews suggest that some pharma companies remain hesitant to outsource the
later stage synthesis to companies in India and China, doubting whether these
companies have the requisite technical knowledge and can meet the health and safety
standards required to supply the highly regulated EU, Japanese and North American
markets. In addition pharma companies are concerned that disclosed intellectual
property may not be protected. This perception is changing however and pharma
companies have even begun to contemplate setting up their own API plants in China
“We are now going through an internal discussion. Do we maintain that
[production of a particular product in house] going forward or do we go to
India and China and outsource those products? And we are now starting to
do more of that than we have done in the past. Mainly active ingredients
right now […] a product that would go off patent. So we are using some of
these compounds as the vehicles to test that methodology” (interview
general manager API plant).
Global manufacturing mandates
Another qualitative change in Ireland’s role concerns a widening of the manufacturing
mandates to cover global markets. Since this development is even more significant in
the context of drug formulation activities, a full discussion will be included in the next
section. The main difference between active ingredients and drug formulation is that
active ingredient plants, given their capital intensive nature, have always had relative
wide mandates. Geographical strategies are idiosyncratic but it is generally true to say
that until the 1990s some of the larger firms tended to organise their active plants on a
supra-regional basis, with the Irish active ingredient plants supplying European
formulation plants. Many of these companies have since adopted a global supply
strategy and Irish API plants have become the single global source for a range of
companies’ active ingredients.
Increase in biopharmaceutical fermentation activity
Finally, since 2000 Ireland is emerging as an increasingly important location for
biopharmaceutical active ingredient plants (Van Egeraat, 2006). The rise of
biotechnology, besides introducing a new high-tech production activity to the Irish
pharmaceutical space, has also changed Ireland’s relative role in global manufacturing
Biotechnology is still a frontier science and the production of active ingredients
requires highly skilled staff – even more skilled than in the case of chemical synthesis.
In addition, biofermentation requires a greater process R&D effort, a substantial
amount of which needs to take place at the site of the commercial manufacturing
plant, which further increases skill requirements. By way of illustration, nearly 60 per
cent of all staff at one of the interviewed biopharmaceutical active ingredient plants
had third level degrees. The number of locations that can satisfy these skill
requirements is more limited than in the case of chemical synthesis. In most cases, the
Irish facility is one of only one or two facilities outside a company’s home country,
making it a strategic facility supplying global markets from the start. Although most
of the Irish facilities are established to provide additional capacity for existing
products, the intention is that the plants will begin to act as new product introduction
plants as soon as new molecules emerge from the the development pipeline. The
technology and skills requirements mean that at this point in time Ireland competes
for inward investment projects with other technologically advanced locations,
including Switzerland, rather than with low cost economies. “… at this point in time
you would not be looking at China and India for this type of investment” (Interview
with general manager of biopharmaceutical active ingredient plant). The required
inputs – mainly media, buffers and resins – tend to be exclusively sourced from
technologically-advanced locations in the USA, Europe and Japan.
5.2 Drug Formulations
The drug formulations sub-sector has experienced strong growth, particularly since
the 1990s. Here too the absolute growth in formulation activity was accompanied by
important qualitative changes in Ireland’s involvement in global manufacturing
networks, notably a widening of product mandates to cover European and global
markets. Traditionally, tariff and regulatory non-tariff barriers meant that
pharmaceutical companies operated separate formulation plants in many different
countries (Jungmittag and Reger, 2000). The development of the EU single market
and new WTO agreements led to increasing harmonisation of regulatory regimes and
a reduction of other non-tariff barriers impinging on international trade in
pharmaceutical products. The expectation was that the development would lead to a
global rationalisation of formulation plants (Howells, 1992).
Although we have no global data indicating the extent of this rationalisation, it is
known that several companies comprehensively reorganised their manufacturing
organisation (Forfas, 1995, EFPIA, 2003). These companies concentrated production
in fewer super-manufacturing plants, although even after the rationalisation most
companies still retained a significant amount of formulation plants in different
markets, partly due to the fact that significant non-tariff barriers persisted (White,
Ireland was strongly positioned to benefit from this trend. First, due to the small size
of its market, Ireland never had had much leverage over pharma companies to
establish small local market-oriented plants. As a result there were relatively few
small-scale inefficient plants to rationalise and many plants already served export
markets. Secondly, the attractive taxation regime, low labour costs and the presence of
sufficiently skilled labour made Ireland an attractive location for consolidated
manufacturing operations. The classic example in Ireland is the Wyeth Medica plant
in Newbridge. As part of a global restructuring process, this plant was established to
consolidate the formulation activities of 13 manufacturing plants in Europe that had
been closed down. The Irish facility is one of the company`s two ‘strategic’
formulation plants (the other one is located in Puerto Rico) producing a large number
of products, often for world markets. An indication of the trend towards global supply
mandates is that 31 out of about 80 pharma plants that operated in Ireland in 2006
were approved to supply the US market (Interview IDA; see also Irish Times, July 2,
Besides this widening of the geographical product mandates, some of the qualitative
changes discussed under active ingredients are applicable to formulation
manufacturing, though not always to the same extent. Many formulation plants have
obtained launch plant status and are thus responsible for the relatively skill-intensive
new-product introductions (and related process development activities - see below).
The strategic nature and know-how, in combination with now higher labour costs,
mean that the plants tend to be used for the most value-added markets and stages in
the product life-cycle. Many plants focus on the introduction of new products. Nearer
to patent expiry the same products are outsourced or left to the specialised generics
companies. In addition, the plants in Ireland tend to focus on the more regulated, more
technology-intensive, and therefore higher value-added markets, notably the USA and
EU. “They [some of the formulation plants in low cost locations] are low cost
operations, serving the local market. They would not have the capacity or
sophistication to supply into Europe or US. For us to supply those small markets from
this plant would be a distraction. Our primary focus is Europe and US” (interview
general manager, formulation plant).
As to the competition from other locations, while most companies have production
plants in Eastern Europe, India and China to supply the local markets, the
interviewees still consider these countries substantially less attractive than Ireland as a
location for the formulation of patented drugs for the strongly regulated markets such
as the EU and USA. However, as in the case of active ingredients, interviewees
typically contend that the growing capability in these regions, in combination with
rising costs in Ireland, have the potential to jeopardize Ireland’s position in the
6. Research and Development
The Fordist geography of R&D differed from that of production. On an international
level, the R&D functions of multinational companies, particularly the more strategic
activities, remained firmly located in the companies` home countries. Some
decentralisation of R&D occurred, but such units were typically small and limited to
short-run adaptations of mature products (Hayter, 1998). Until the 1980s, the
pharmaceuticals sector followed this locational model closely, with basic research
functions conducted in the central research units located near the head-offices and
main production sites of the companies. Branch plants frequently housed small
technical and development units, but the scope of such activities was limited
(Howells, 1984). Even in the case of process R&D, the manufacturing process was
typically for the most part developed by the central R&D group located near the head-
office and then transferred to the manufacturing function and manufacturing sites.
This model of R&D involved inherent structural and operational inefficiencies.
Growing competitive and commercial pressures in the post-Fordist period have forced
firms to address these inefficiencies resulting in a significant reconfiguration of the
spatial organisation of R&D. The following sections analyse Ireland’s changing role
in three of the main components of pharmaceutical-industry R&D, namely discovery,
clinical development and process development.
The discovery stage is concerned with research into the causes of diseases and the
identification of compounds relevant to particular diseases. A large number of these
leads are assessed for their biological activity. The discovery stage ends with the
selection of one or a small number of drug candidates that are believed to have the
potential for further development.
In the face of renewed competitive pressures and technological change,
pharmaceutical companies have profoundly reorganised their discovery functions.
most of the discovery research is still done in the laboratories of the
companies` home countries (Agrawall 1999), discovery activities have become truly
international. In addition, firms increasingly rely on external sources of knowledge,
notably dedicated biotechnology firms. Apart from the establishment of overseas
R&D laboratories, the internationalisation process takes many other routes such as the
establishment of alliances and joint ventures between large pharmaceutical
companies, R&D co-operation and licensing agreements with dedicated
biotechnology firms, pre-competitive research collaboration with universities, and the
financing of university research (Reger, 2000). As regards their internal R&D
activities, most large pharmaceutical companies have now created globally integrated
networks of research units, often specialised in a particular disease or technology
(centres of excellence). Although strongly internationalised, the discovery research
units are highly concentrated in a relatively small number of countries (Taggart, 1993;
Schweitzer, 1997; Lane and Probert, 2004) and, within these, in a small number of
global “megacentres” that offer important pools of specialised skills and facilitate
knowledge exchange (Cooke, 2002; Zeller, 2004)
The internationalisation of discovery has largely by-passed Ireland. In 1999, there was
little or no drug discovery conducted in Ireland (ICSTI, 1999) and this situation has
changed little. None of the 11 multinational companies interviewed for this research
had a formally constituted discovery laboratory in Ireland. All companies had
multiple discovery laboratories in several countries. All had one or more discovery
laboratories in the USA, while eight had at least one laboratory in the UK. The main
second tier locations included Switzerland (3 companies), France (3) and Spain (3).
The IDA never targeted the large-scale discovery laboratories. It was not considered a
realistic option because, until recently, the relevant science and technological
infrastructure in Ireland was poor by international standards. In 1999 there were no
world class universities or centres of excellence and university-industry co-operation
was superficial, short-term and under-funded (ICSTI, 1999). This situation has
changed profoundly since 2000 when the Irish Government started to invest heavily in
the national science and technology infrastructure. Science Foundation Ireland has
funded a large body of academic researchers and research teams involved in basic
research, notably in the field of biotechnology. These developments are unlikely to be
sufficient to attract large scale discovery units of multinational companies however.
The pharmaceutical companies interviewed rated the chance of the company
establishing discovery functions in Ireland as low or very low.
Although not sufficient to attract large scale discovery units of multinational
companies, the upgraded science base has increased Ireland’s role in the
internationalised discovery networks of the pharmaceutical industry in an indirect
way. Through the SFI-funded university-industry collaborations known as Centres of
Science Engineering and Technology (CSETs), several Irish universities are now
directly co-operating with international pharmaceutical companies in basic research
projects. In addition, more recently, the IDA has recognised that the upgraded
technology base provides a new opportunity for attracting foreign investment in
applied research, and a small number of multinational pharmaceutical companies are
now directly employing staff, integrated in applied research groups at Irish
universities. Finally, the growing body of Irish scientists, in combination with start-up
funding provided by Enterprise Ireland, has resulted in the growth of indigenous
campus and start-up companies in the area of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. A
small number of these research-focussed companies has established collaboration
agreements with major pharmaceutical companies. Although these developments are
encouraging, the number of start-up companies that have brought products to clinical
trials stage is small, and Ireland’s involvement in drug discovery in general remains
limited by international standards.
6.2 Clinical Trials
Clinical studies involve the testing and evaluation of new drug candidates on human
subjects in randomised controlled trials. The core activities include the collection,
management and analysis of highly codified clinical data as well as project
management and support. Due to increasingly stringent regulatory requirements,
clinical studies can now take between 6 and 10 years, depending on the therapeutic
area, and have become the greatest cost factor in bringing a new drug to market
(Chiesa, 1996; Reger, 2000; Schofield, 2001).
The clinical trials process is typically organised through a three-tiered structure. The
product team within the pharmaceutical firm integrates the trial results into the drug
development plan. Secondly, the clinical monitors project-manage the trials and
oversee the quality of the data. Clinical monitoring mainly concerns the routine
manipulation, storage, and transfer of codified data, though the monitors also have a
role in problem identification and mediating disputes. Finally, the group of clinical
investigators enrol patients into the study and oversee test patients at the clinic
A large part of the actual data collection activity takes place in a variety of clinics
whose work is financed by the pharmaceutical companies. Many hospitals have
developed dedicated centres to facilitate clinical trials work. The clinical monitoring
activities were traditionally conducted by the pharmaceutical company`s clinical
operations group, and large companies continue to operate a number of clinical
research units located in different parts of the world. However, since the 1980s the
monitoring and data management activities have been increasingly outsourced to
specialised Clinical Research Organisations (CROs). These CROs are typically
involved in the operational aspects of the study with little or no input into the more
knowledge-intensive elements of the monitoring activities. As such the CROs have
been characterised as “data sweatshops”, and their employees as “data mules”.
Clinical trials have been identified as an important opportunity to increase Ireland’s
involvement in high value added activities in the pharmaceutical industry, (Enterprise
Strategy Group, 2004; Forfás, 2003; ICSTI, 2003) and IDA Ireland is specifically
targeting this segment. Recently, a number of universities established the Irish
Clinical Research Network in an attempt to fill the gaps in Ireland’s clinical research
infrastructure. Until now the efforts have had limited success and clinical trials remain
under-represented in Ireland (Forfás, 2003; Brennan, 2008). Apart from the dedicated
clinical research centres connected to major hospitals (Beaumont, St. James,
Vincent’s), direct investment by the private sector has been extremely limited.
Exceptions include the clinical research unit of Merck in Dublin and a small number
of subsidiaries of international CROs, notably Quintiles.
A number of factors are important in a company’s location decision for clinical trials,
inter alia: the importance of the market for the drug; a high willingness and ability to
cooperate on the part of professional clinics and doctors; strong cooperation with the
national approval authorities; efficiency of the ethics commissions involved; and
costs, quality and time performance (Reger, 2000). The creation of a pan-European
clinical research market and unified legal environment (Samsonov, 2005) have to
some extent reduced Ireland’s disadvantage in terms of market size although the
increasingly important pan-European regulatory authorities are located outside Ireland
(Reger, 2000). However, according to one interviewee at a clinical trials unit, a new
obstacle for Ireland is that it has become increasingly difficult and expensive to recruit
6.3 Process R&D
After the identification of a new target molecule in product development, process
R&D is responsible for the development of safe and efficient manufacturing processes
of commercial scale. The process R&D cycle of the pharmaceutical industry is
complex and involves a number of integrated activities. The various stages of the
cycle are listed in Table 6, starting with pre-formulation studies and ending with
continuous improvement and the development of generation processes. A detailed
discussion of the various activities is beyond the scope of the present paper. For the
present discussion it is important to point out that, although all stages can involve
skilled and highly educated staff, the early stages in the cycle involve the greatest
number of, and the most highly-skilled, researchers. In addition, companies generally
aim to have made most major decisions regarding the process prior to phase III
clinical trials (activity 7 and 8 in Table 6). From here on, process development
focuses on the final details of the process.
Until the mid-1980s, under the Fordist regime, branch plants frequently housed small
technical and development units that had some role in process development, but the
scope of such activities was limited (Howells, 1984). Typically, the manufacturing
process was for the most part developed by the central R&D group located near the
head-office and then transferred to the manufacturing sites.
Van Egeraat (2007) shows that since the mid-1980s the role of Ireland in the global
process R&D networks of multinational pharmaceutical companies has changed. The
survey of pharmaceutical firms showed that in the period 2000-2006, the number of
people involved in process R&D almost doubled, from 408 to 800, compared with a
36 per cent growth rate in total employment over the period.
To get an insight into the relative role of the Irish plants in the global networks of
their parent firms, survey respondents were asked to rate the input of the local staff in
various process R&D activities of the parent firm on a seven-point Likert scale (where
a score of 1 indicated that the Irish plant had no input in the activity and a score of 7
indicated that the Irish plant had sole ownership of the activity in question). The
findings of this question are presented in Table 6. The columns represent the
proportion of relevant establishments falling into each Likert scale score category
while the “mean” column indicates the mean score obtained for all respondent
establishments for the relevant R&D activity
Overall the data clearly show that the involvement of the Irish staff in process R&D
only becomes substantial after the proof-of-concept point, at the start of phase III
clinical trials. As mentioned earlier, this is the point at which companies generally
want to have locked down the process parameters. From here on process R&D
activities focus on the final details of the process and technology transfer. The fact
that the Irish establishments tend to concentrate their involvement in process R&D
activities in the later stages of the cycle does not mean that they are involved in low-
skilled or mundane activities. The education profile of staff involved in process R&D
can be used as an indicator of the quality or sophistication of the activities carried out
in the Irish subsidiaries. The survey shows that process R&D activities in the Irish
pharmaceutical sector employ a substantial number of highly- skilled people, with 30
per cent of the 800 people involved holding a PhD degree as their highest level of
academic attainment, with 19 per cent having a Masters degree, and a further 46 per
cent holding a primary degree.
The change in Ireland’s role in process R&D activities is the result of several partly
integrated drivers (Van Egeraat and Breathnach, 2008). First, reacting to increasing
costs of developing new products alongside pressure on drug prices and revenues,
pharmaceutical companies have begun to organise their process development function
more effectively. The required co-ordination between the various stages of the process
development cycle and between process development and manufacturing functions
has been achieved by co-locating selected process R&D functions at manufacturing
plants, including in Ireland. Another important driver lies in the international taxation
regime, notably the introduction in the mid-1990s of U.S. legislation for Cost-Sharing
Arrangements for developing intellectual property. This provided an instrument for
US multinationals to share the costs of developing intellectual profits between various
subsidiaries, and thereby shift some of the profits to subsidiaries in lower-tax
jurisdictions, including Ireland. The location in Ireland of functions additional to
manufacturing, notably R&D pilot plants, could be used to justify higher levels of
value added and profits attributed to the Irish subsidiaries. Finally, a number of
measures implemented by the Irish Government in recent years have also exerted a
positive influence on the disposition of pharmaceutical MNEs towards locating
process R&D activities in Ireland without necessarily being a key driver, namely: the
investment in education and the resulting rapid growth in the supply of science and
technology graduates discussed earlier; the major expansion of state funding of
scientific research; tax credits for R&D expenditure and grant schemes to support
Mainly driven by foreign direct investment, employment and export levels of the Irish
pharmaceutical industry have grown substantially over recent decades, and Ireland has
become one of the main pharmaceutical exporters. The growth continued after 2002,
at a time when most other manufacturing sectors in Ireland experienced decline.
This growth is positive in itself, particularly in light of the fact that the pharmaceutical
sector is one of the most skill-intensive manufacturing sectors in Ireland. But from a
dynamic regional development perspective it is also interesting to explore the
qualitative changes in the types of activities that are conducted in Ireland. Adopting a
global production network approach for examining regional development in the
context of globalisation, the paper examined Ireland’s changing role in global
production networks within the pharmaceutical industry, focussing on the different
components of manufacturing (i.e. active ingredients and drug formulations) and
R&D (i.e. discovery, clinical trials and process development).
Within manufacturing, there has been very little growth in the (relatively) low value
generating activity of basic chemicals. Employment growth instead occurred mainly
in drug formulation and the higher-value-generating active ingredients sub-sector.
Alongside this, Irish plants have assumed a greater role in launch activities, an
increased focus on the later stages of the chemical synthesis cycle, and a geographical
widening of product mandates. All these developments have substantially increased
the level of value creation
Ireland’s role in R&D differs considerably from activity to activity. Notwithstanding
recent developments in Irish third-level institutions and the growing number of
indigenous research-based companies, Ireland’s relative role in the high value
generating drug discovery field remains very limited. Similarly, in spite of efforts to
upgrade the necessary infrastructure, high value generating clinical trials activities
remain under-represented in Ireland. Finally, Ireland’s role in the medium value
generating process R&D activities has increased substantially, with a doubling of the
number of people involved over the period 2000-2006. Even in this area however,
Ireland’s involvement is concentrated in the (relatively) lower value generating down-
stream phases of the cycle.
Although the picture is complex and differentiated, the level of value creation in the
Irish pharmaceutical industry has increased substantially over the Celtic Tiger era. In
spite of an increasing number of indigenous research-focused start-up companies
however, the sector remains strongly dominated by foreign direct investment so that a
large share of the value is not captured within Ireland.
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Figure 1. Employment in pharmaceuticals (NACE 257) in Ireland, 1979-1991
Source: Census of Industrial Production (various issues)
Note: CIP (1991) yields employment numbers for both NACE 257 and NACE 244 for that year
Figure 2. Employment in pharmaceuticals (NACE 244) in Ireland, 1991-2005
Source: Census of Industrial Production (various issues)
Figure 3. Employment pharmaceutical industry by sub-sector 1972-2003
Source: Van Egeraat, 2006 – using Forfás Employment Survey
Table 1. Share of pharmaceutical sector in manufacturing employment, 1985-
2000, various countries
1985 1990 1995 2000
European Union (15 countries) 1.5 1.7 2 2
Belgium 2.1 2.6 3.3
Denmark 2.3 3.1 3.7 2.7
Germany 1.2 1.3 1.6 1.7 1.7
Ireland 1.3 1.9 2.6 3.4 5.2
Greece 2 2.3 2.4 1.7
Spain 1.6 1.6 1.8 1.4 1.5
France 2 2.5 2.7 3 2.8
Italy 2 2.3 1.4 1.5 1.5
Netherlands 1.7 1.6 2
Austria 1.4 2 1.6
Portugal 0.9 0.9 0.8
Finland 0.9 1.5 1.4 1.0
Sweden 1.5 2.2 2.8
United Kingdom 1.3 1.5 2 2.1* 2.1
United States 0.9 1 1.3
Japan 0.9 0.9 1
Source: Eurostat Annual Enterprise Statistics
Note: the 1985-2000 figures refer only to enterprises employing 20 or more persons
* refers to 2001; blank cells indicate data not available.
Table 2. Third-level graduates as share of sectoral employment, 2006
degree or higher as
Share of Sectoral
Manufacturing industries 32.8 19.9
Food industries 23.4 14.2
Beverages and tobacco 42.5 27.9
Textiles, clothing, footwear and leather 18.9 9.9
Wood and wood products 17.3 9.1
Paper, paper products, printing and publishing 35.9 21.8
Chemical, rubber and plastic products 45.7 31.2
Glass, pottery and cement 18.6 10.0
Metals, metal products, machinery and engineering 36.6 21.8
Other manufacturing (incl. transport equipment) 21.6 10.5
Source: Population Census 2006, Volume 10: Education and Qualifications; Table 8.
Table 3. Wages per head by industrial sector
Wages per Head,
Manufacturing Industries 32,126
Food Beverages and Tobacco 31,493
Wood and Wood Products 25,660
Pulp and Paper 35,257
of which: Pharmaceuticals 38,883
Rubber and Plastics 27,660
Non-Metallic Minerals 30,099
Basic and Fabricated Metals 28,196
Machinery and Equipment nec. 29,361
Office Machinery and Computers 35,714
Electrical machinery 29,805
Radio, TV, and Medical Devices 31,382
Transport Equipment 33,472
Manufacturing nec and Fuels 26,407
Source: Census of Industrial Production, Manufacturing Local Units
Table 4. Country shares of global pharma exports, 1965-2005; selected countries
1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005
Italy 3.6 4.8 5.0 4.9 5.1 4.3 4.1 5.9 4.7
8.2 7.2 8.3 10.6 9.2 10.4 10.4 10.2 8.8
Germany 27.6 30.7 27.8 16.1 14.2 16.7 14.8 12.7 14.6
8.4 4.4 4.3 4.4 3.6 3.9 5.4 4.1 4.1
4.1 4.7 4.0 4.6 7.2 7.4
Source: UN Comtrade database
*: Belgium and Luxembourg until 1995; Belgium alone for 2000 and 2005. (Exports from Luxembourg
Table 5. Indications of possible transfer price manipulation in the Irish pharma
Gross Value Added per
(thousands of euro)
Share of personnel costs in
EU15 UK Irl EU15 UK Irl
Pharmaceuticals 24.4 106.3 141.1 251 18.5 20.1 7.2
Source: Barry (2005)
Table 6. Involvement of Irish establishments in process R&D activities
Likert scale score (% of establishments)*
Process R&D activities 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 mean
1 Pre-formulation studies. 74.6
2 Derivation of initial route / process options
and preliminary evaluation 71.0
3 Evaluation in small scale experiments 63.9
4 Evaluation in kilo lab 62.1
5 Production for Phase II clinical trials 52.8
6 Evaluation and optimisation in pilot plant
prior to Phase III clinical trials 39.6
7 Production for Phase III clinical trials 25.9
8 Evaluation and optimisation in pilot plant
during Phase III clinical trials 27.8
9 Equipment design 9.7
10 Optimisation in commercial plant (pre filing)
11 Validation 0.0
12 Continuous improvement 0.0
13 Development of second generation process
(outside filing parameters) 9.8
*Note: 1 = no input in activity by Irish plant; 7 = Irish plant has sole ownership of activity